Double-Minded James 1:5-8, 4:8)

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
-James 1:5-8, 4:8 (NIV)

In James, chapters one and four, James uses this peculiar word, 'double-minded'.  I'm not sure I have ever heard it spoken outside of 'Christianese' conversations.  Every preacher that quotes this verse has to explain it.

'Double-minded' literally means 'double souled'.  James was the first person to use this word in Greek writings.  Scholar Douglas Moo wrote, "James, who uses this same term again in 4:8, has probably coined the term in order to accentuate his concern that believers display a wholehearted commitment to God.  However, while he may be the first to use this particular word, he is certainly not the first to enunciate the concept.  The OT blesses those who pursue God with "a whole heart": (Ps. 119:2) and condemns the person who exhibits a "divided heart" (Ps. 12:2; Hos. 10:2).  Jesus singled out Deut. 6:5, with its demand for total allegiance, as one of the greatest commandments in the OT: "Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."...  James concludes with a final negative characterization of this "doubter" who will not find his prayers answered: he is unstable in all his ways...  The "all he does" reflects again James's concern to portray a basic inconsistency in attitude and spirit rather than an occasional doubt or lapse.  It is what we might call "spiritual schizophrenia" that James criticizes in these verses explicitly throughout his letter: a basic division in the soul that leads to thinking, speaking, and acting that contradicts one's claim to belong to God."(1)

Being 'double-minded' means being 'half-hearted' or 'wavering', according to The Passion Translation.  'Double-minded' is translated as 'divided loyalty' in The Phillips and The New Living translations.  Eugene Peterson's The Message has the word as, 'keeping all your options open'.

James says that this will not work.  He says that such a person will not get their prayers answered, for wisdom in their trials.  James's antidote for double-mindedness is repentance: Returning to God.  Washing your hands signifies getting cleansed.  Purifying your heart means to get your heart set right, toward single loyalty to God.

Here again is the context of James 1:

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:


Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

If any of you lacks wisdom, 
you should ask God, 
who gives generously 
to all without finding fault, 
and it will be given to you. 

But when you ask, 
you must believe and not doubt, 
because the one who doubts 
is like a wave of the sea, 
blown and tossed by the wind. 

That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 
Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

In my last message on James, I focused on 'asking God for help'.  And the help we are asking for is wisdom.  The next thing James says is to be careful how you ask: don't ask with doubt, but with belief.  Doubtful people are like wave on the sea: unstable.

And the person with a doubtful open mind, that says 'yes' and 'no' at the same time is a double-minded person.  They will not be able to receive from the Lord and their doubtfulness makes them unstable in how they live.

The NET Bible note says this about 'double-minded': "A double-minded man is one whose devotion to God is less than total. His attention is divided between God and other things, and as a consequence he is unstable and therefore unable to receive from God."  By the way, the word 'man' means 'person', even though it can be translated either 'man' or 'individual' or 'a person'.

Rather than get into a discussion of what Schizophrenia is and how spiritual schizophrenia is related, it is better to let the text define the word.  'Double-minded' simply means, 'of two minds'.  And James says that you don't want to be like that.  The double that is trouble is doubt and belief.

Faith has to do with believing and then living based on believing in something that someone said or did.  Someone promises to love you and to be there for you and you believe them, even when you can not see them.  That is faith.

When the one you put your faith in breaks your trust by deliberately being unloving or betraying you, we call them unfaithful.  But if that one is being faithful, but you mix in doubt in your heart with your thoughts of faith in them, that can become a problem.

Imagine a person who is not capable of betraying you or being unfaithful.  That person is God.  If you approach God with faith in God's faithfulness, but also doubt in his faithfulness, that is a problem, says James.

If, for whatever reason, based on your life's experience or just your personality or journey of faith; you have trouble trusting God and can not believe, but rather doubt; then that is something to work on.

In human relationships we build trust.  It is natural to start out somewhat trusting and then it builds to the point where you might feel like you trust that person to pull you up, if you are the one behind them, climbing the figurative mountain in life.

Some people start out not trusting anyone, because they have been hurt or abused.  We can carry that brokenness into our relationship with God.  We can also have all sorts of misconceptions about God including 'bad theology' that misrepresents God and God's love, goodness and affection towards us.

Working on that and getting clear on just how good and trustworthy that God is, is the homework for the doubter with 'trust issues' to work on.

James does not go into any details like that though.  James just says, "don't doubt".  Remember though that this is from the person who grew up next to Jesus and even during Jesus public ministry years, filled with the incredible things he said and did, James doubted!

James is not degrading or condemning the doubter.  He is simply saying, "faith and doubt together won't work: you can't hold onto both.  You will be unstable, like a two minded person."  And he basically says, "stop it", or, "stop doing that", which is his encapsulation on the 'double-minded' connotation, when he starts to wrap up his letter and says: "purify your hearts, you double-minded".

There is no in-between place of faith and unbelief.  If you have unbelief, you don't have faith.  There is a coming to faith and a growing in faith.  There is a cry of a hurting heart that wants to have faith, but has been disappointed with faith that says, "I believe, but help my unbelief".

There is also the lament of heartsickness that believes, but has not seen very much of God's faithfulness that it has longed for, that is expressed in the words, "hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled if the tree of life".  And the heart longing for God, in the midst of waiting and suffering in a wilderness or lack of fruit, can cry out, "how long oh Lord?"

Unbelief or doubt are different than grief and suffering that laments as it looks to God.  Remember that lament is the highest form of worship.

James is addressing folks who God is being revealed to and yet they still doubt.  Again, this is not unique to James's church.  The Bible is frank about people who stood at arms length from the risen Jesus and still doubted (Matt. 28:17).

The context here is that James is saying you have to stop the doubting, stop holding thoughts of doubt in your mind while praying to God for help, for wisdom in your suffering circumstances in life.  In the trials and temptations and the tumultuous circumstances of your life, wherein you call out to God; you can not hold onto doubt and expect for anything from God.  That is what James is saying.

James is saying don't expect results if you are holding on to doubts about God.  You are either all-in or it won't work.  It is the same today.

The Christian life only works if you surrender all and give up everything.  The kingdom of God is indeed like a person who found the pearl and sold everything to have it.  Jesus does not come into your life as an add-on, but to takeover all of you.

The Christian life is 'goodbye you'; and 'hello Jesus', throughout your whole life, every room, every inch and every part.  He does not obliterate you, but renews and remakes you: Him in you, all that God created you to be.  That means when there are doubts about Jesus or about God, they have to be discarded and thrown out or put to death.  You may not or ever have the answers, but the unbelief and doubt must go.

Faith is rooted in God who is faithful.  His faithfulness empowers our faith which is rooted in his person.  My faith is not built on doctrine, theology, my denominational or non-denominational affiliation.  My faith is not built on my father or fathers.

Neither is my faith built on my experiences or what I have felt, seen, heard or read.  My faith is rooted in the person of God and God's faithfulness.  And God's faithfulness and love is most expressed in the gospel, which is the good news about Jesus: who he is and why he came.

Walking through the doorway of belief in the gospel of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is faith.  Life begins to be defined, measured or seen through the door of Christ.  If we are looking at him and have walked through the door which is him, then doubt has to go: it is incompatible.

Check yourself at the door.  See yourself in Christ and take off or walk away from doubt.  Rid your mind of doubt.    And again, this is not a condemning word, because James himself was a doubter, and he is saying, "you have the truth: cultivate it and don't pick up doubts".  If you do, the life will not work as it is designed to and you are the one who can make the change.

Don't be double minded.  Recognize it and don't cultivate it.  Even if my faith is weak and has many questions, I don't doubt Father God, Christ or The Spirit of God.

1. The Letter of James, Douglas J. Moo, pp. 62-3